Ethics Opinions

Opinion No. 77-3

Summary: A lawyer may write a newspaper column in which legal topics are discussed and use the title "attorney" in the byline if: (1) he does not undertake to give individual advice, (2) the column does not contain self-laudatory statements or otherwise advertise him as a lawyer, and (3) the disclosure of his profession is pertinent for a purpose other than the attraction of potential clients.

Facts: A lawyer intends to write a weekly or bi-weekly column for a daily newspaper. The column would "contain brief discussions of legal topics, with the purpose of informing the general public of various legal options available to them in sundry situations." The column itself would make no mention of the lawyer as an attorney, nor contain personal data, but the lawyer wishes to identify himself as an attorney in the "byline."

Discussion: "A lawyer shall not publicize himself ... through newspaper advertisements." DR 2-101(B). Nor shall a lawyer prepare "any form of public communication that contains self-laudatory statements calculated to attract lay clients." DR 2-101(A). A lawyer is, however, permitted to write a newspaper column on general legal topics. "[A] lawyer may speak publicly or write for publication on legal topics so long as he does not emphasize his own professional experience or reputation and does not undertake to give individual advice." DR 2-104(A)(4).

In addition, DR 2-101(B) allows "limited and dignified identification of a lawyer as a lawyer as well as by name ... (2) in public notices when the name and profession of a lawyer ... are reasonably pertinent for a purpose other than the attraction of potential clients." For example, a lawyer, available as a public lecturer, can be identified as a lawyer in promotional material if the lectures are on legal or quasi-legal topics. "[H]is profession as a lawyer would be 'reasonably pertinent' for the purpose of securing and publicizing speaking engagements on such subjects." MBA Opinion 74-7.

In this instance, the newspaper column would not contain any personal data about the lawyer. It would not undertake to give personal advice. The lawyer may, therefore, write the column so long as he does not use self-laudatory statements or otherwise advertise himself as a lawyer. As the column would address legal topics of general interest, the fact that the author is a lawyer is "reasonably pertinent for a purpose other than the attraction of potential clients" and the lawyer may use the title "attorney" in the "byline."


Permission to publish granted by the Board of Delegates, 1977. As stated in the Rules of the Committee on Professional Ethics, this advice is that of a committee without official governmental status.
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